Fabric Dyeing and Printing

Experiment with dyeing fabrics then overprinting block patterns.


  • Large plastic containers to dip cloth into (pails etc)
  • Straws to push dye around on fabric
  • Large paint roller to spread dye about onto the fabric
  • Paint brushes (house & artists)
  • Ceramic dishes or bowls for dye (something non-porous)
  • Knives or other suitable instrument to cut image in potato
  • Plastic gloves to protect from dyes
  • Iron
  • Scissors and Stanley knife cutter for stencil


  • Plain fabric such as cotton
  • Liquid dyes or mix children’s paint with PVA glue or fabric medium to make a waterproof alternative
  • Potatoes – any size or type will do
  • Tea bags and coffee grounds – any variety
  • Card or polystyrene for stencils


You will need a table to work on, although this can be done on a floor: give yourself enough space to work comfortably in. A wallpaper table would be fine. Have newspapers to work on for clean-up purposes. A sheet of plastic or oilcloth would be useful for floor work or for covering the table as dyes stain and are permanent.

A bucket of water would be helpful if there’s not a sink readily available. Water is not essential except for adding to dyes to dilute them or for clean up. You will not need hot water except if you want an all over effect with the tea or coffee.


There are no real limitations to the design other than the fact that you cannot do photographic work, but the design can be as complex and intricate as your abilities and desire. Potatoes can give an amazing amount of detail and could even he cut to create a much larger pattern or picture. The use of liquid dyes allows a variety of methods to occur: painting, pouring stippling and stenciling, splattering etc. They can also be used to dip the cut potatoes in to print onto the fabric. Ordinary items to found in the kitchen such as tea and coffee make good colorants and fruit teas add extra interest.


You have your materials and tools laid out a place to work comfortably and your working designs ready. Now you are ready to actually begin dyeing and printing the fabric! The adventure begins…

You should have a piece of cotton fabric to work on suitable to your final needs – a cushion cover for example don’t try for anything too ambitious to begin with.


The first process is to experiment on pieces of cloth with the dyes to see what they will produce. It is best to begin with lighter colours such as yellow and layer over with darker colours as a light colour over a dark one may not show up. You might want to dilute some dye and try pouring it over the cloth or moving it around with a roller or brushes. Try splattering a darker colour with a brush and flick it over the surface. A roller or a paintbrush will give a more ‘controlled’ effect whereas pouring dipping or splattering is unpredictable.

You might want to try tea and coffee next or it could be used beforehand. It may be that you want an all over soft cover, which could be achieved by soaking the fabric in tea and then using the dyes. Coffee can be used to achieve a darker brown or to add effects using granules that have been soaked directly onto the fabric. Fruit teabags can also be used directly after being dipped into hot water.

When you feel that the fabric has had sufficient colour added to it leave it to dry. You may want to iron it at this point to eliminate any wrinkles ready for the next process.

Block Printing

When the fabric is dry and ironed, you can proceed to the overprinting. You will need to design and cut your potatoes for this. Again, think simple as you can create something complex from this. Once you have your potato cut or stencils could be used as well, made from card or polystyrene, you are ready to print or stipple if using stencils.

You only need to dip the potato into a dish of dye and then press it into the cloth wherever you wish. It may be a good idea to experiment first on a separate piece to determine whether the colour is right or the dye thick enough. You can add fabric medium or PVA to make it thicker. Consider the colour that you have already got on your fabric in order to determine what colour or colours you print or stencil with. Generally, darker colours will be seen over lighter ones and visa versa. You might, for instance make a yellow dye heavy enough to stand out over the colour.

You may have to adjust your original design once you have tried things out. When you have your design completed, remembering to leave margins around the edges if you are planning to hem them or to affix them to say a wooden frame, allow the piece to thoroughly dry and then iron it.

Once it is finished, it can be stretched over a frame, hung as a banner, made into a cushion or a small quilt or cover – the limit is your imagination!

I would suggest that you wash it separately for the first time to ascertain whether or not it might bleed colour before you put it into the washing machine with other items.